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'retrofit first' policy floated for city of london schemes.

The financial capital of the UK is making headlines as planners at the City of London Corporation have released a Sustainability Supplementary Planning Document which sets out the way in which redevelopment of the city of London must focus on achieving long-term sustainability and environmental resilience goals.

Stretching from Temple to the Tower of London and encompassing 1.12 square miles, the City of London is the heart of the capital, the life blood of the city's tourism industry and represents the character and diversity of the country. It will also, should the City of London Corporation's ambitious plans be accepted, witness a revolution in design and construction.

What is the City of London Corporation?

The City of London Corporation is a decision-making body led by the Lord Mayor, which aims to maintain and promote the City of London. It has its own government and an independent police force and is dedicated to creating a sustainable society in which the economy thrives, environmental pollution is minimised, and resident interests are protected.

What has been proposed?

The new Sustainability Supplementary Planning Document details the Corporation's plans for achieving Net Zero by 2040 and recognises that the built environment currently contributes up to 40% of the city's carbon emissions, forcing this issue to be addressed in order to achieve the environmental goals that have been set.

The document issues guidance for developers to support them in achieving their carbon reduction strategies and details emphatically how carbon emissions are to be controlled in the future. It includes details as to how flexibility in building design can deliver impressive carbon efficiencies and promotes the practice of urban greening, in which developers offset some carbon emissions through the inclusion of additional green space within their developments.

The five key considerations that have been identified are:

1. Retrofit and reuse. By reusing existing buildings rather than demolishing and replacing them, significant carbon efficiencies will be achieved, making this the most sustainable approach for any new development. Developers wishing to pursue alternative options for developing a site will need to demonstrate that reuse does not represent a sustainable and suitable approach on a case-by-case basis.

2. Whole life-cycle carbon emissions. Considering the impact of the construction process without due regard to the ongoing carbon emissions from the development will be unacceptable. Instead, developers must focus on reducing the emissions emanating from their development for the entirety of its life, from construction to in-service and even demolition and disposal. This means implementing energy efficiency measures and considering how the building could later be repurposed or recycled when no longer required.

3. Circular economy. Developers will be challenged to demonstrate how they will preserve the value of their buildings for a prolonged period by reducing their reliance on raw materials, preserving materials through the build phase, reusing existing materials where possible and recycling what waste is generated at project completion.

4. Climate resilience. Developers must demonstrate that they have considered the implications of climate change when they submit their proposals. They must detail how the flood risk to their development has been minimised through the use of innovative materials and building techniques, that the drainage systems that are proposed are sustainable, that the infrastructure will be resilient to the effects of climate change and that the disease and pest control risk has been minimised to a level that is as low as is reasonably practicable.

5. Biodiversity. Finally, developers must commit to urban greening as part of their proposals and detail how their projects will improve the biodiversity of the Square Mile. This can include connecting existing green spaces to allow for nature corridors, creating well-being areas and tailoring the environment in such a way as to encourage native plant and animal species to thrive.

When will these changes happen?

The Sustainability Supplementary Planning Document will be released for public consultation in the spring of 2024, and it is expected that once approved, the proposals will be formally adopted and implemented later in the year. 

Although the changes are substantial, they should not come as a surprise to any developers who have been following the news this year, as the need to reduce emissions from the built environment is an issue that has long dominated the headlines. Indeed, many have been incredibly proactive in implementing sustainability measures into their construction projects, and the buildings that will be constructed after these proposals are adopted will join a host of other pioneering and highly sustainable buildings in our capital city.

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